FRISCO, Texas – Erik Meyer, the first in Eastern Washington’s string of All-American quarterbacks since 2005, nearly swallowed his whistle the first time he saw Eric Barriere operate.
Meyer was the offensive coordinator at his alma mater, La Mirada (California) High, when Barriere – EWU’s electric sophomore quarterback – starred at rival La Habra, regularly shredding defenses with his arm and feet.
The same thing he’s done for the Eagles (12-2), who face top-ranked North Dakota State (14-0) on Saturday in the FCS national title game at Toyota Stadium.
“He was a big-time player,” said Meyer, now an assistant at California. “He could really run, and I remember watching a video of him throwing the football 75 yards downfield. Just impressive stuff.”
A three-star recruit and one of the top quarterbacks in the Los Angeles area, Barriere generated interest from a laundry list of FBS schools, including Utah, BYU, New Mexico and Hawaii.
Hawaii – then a struggling program in the midst of a coaching change – was the only one that extended a scholarship offer, Barriere said.
“A lot of the bigger schools said I was too short,” said Barriere, who measured 5-foot-10 at a pair of elite quarterback camps. “I’m still hoping to hit a growth spurt.”
When Barriere was still weighing his options, he was approached by Meyer, who said he ran into Barriere at a local gym.
“He was such a quiet kid,” Meyer said. “He said he still being recruited, and I talked to him about Eastern a little.”
Meyer mentioned his favorable experience in Cheney, where he led the Eagles to a pair of FCS playoff appearances.
Three years later, Barriere has kept EWU’s quarterback-rich tradition intact, completing 177 of 285 passes for 2,252 yards and 24 touchdowns. He’s also rushed for 603 yards and seven scores
Gaudy numbers, considering Barriere didn’t earn his first start until Oct. 6, a week after All-American and Walter Payton Award candidate Gage Gubrud went down with a season-ending toe injury.
Barriere already has a pair of records to his name, including a FCS playoff record seven touchdowns in a 50-19 semifinal rout of Maine. He also owns the school’s longest touchdown run by a quarterback (86 yards).
“I wasn’t expecting Barriere to play the way he is this early,” Meyer said. “He has a little bit of Vernon Adams’ game, but with his own thing going on.”
Adams, another Los Angeles product, lauded Barriere.
“He’ll be better than me,” Adams said on Twitter. “He’s definitely already faster.”
Barriere, Gubrud and Adams (2012-14) are the only quarterbacks in EWU history to win nine of their first 10 starts.
“It’s cool to be a part of this,” Barriere said. “Eastern is known for its tradition at quarterback, so I’m glad that I came here.”
Since 2005, EWU has had the most impressive run of quarterbacks at the FCS level, starting with Meyer, who took home the Walter Payton Award, given to the country’s top offensive player. In 42 games, he passed for 10,261 yards, with 84 TD passes and 17 interceptions.
Matt Nichols, a veteran CFL quarterback, was EWU’s quarterback the next four seasons (2006-09), setting a Big Sky Conference career passing record (12,616 yards).
He was an All-American and the Big Sky Conference’s Offensive MVP.
Replacing Nichols was SMU transfer Bo Levi Mitchell (2010-11), who led EWU a to a FCS national championship his first year in Cheney before winning the Walter Payton Award in 2011.
Mitchell, a two-time CFL MVP who has led the Calgary Stampeders to two Grey Cup titles, has the attention of NFL teams. He recently worked out for a few, including the Minnesota Vikings, New York Giants and Indianapolis Colts.
A year after Mitchell exhausted college eligibility, the electric dual-threat Adams starred at EWU the next three seasons, becoming an All-American and Walter Payton Award finalist. He transferred to Oregon his senior year, where he helped the Ducks reach the Alamo Bowl.
Gubrud took the reins in 2016 as a sophomore, shattering the FCS single-season passing mark (5,160 yards and 48 touchdowns).The All-American was a Walter Payton Award candidate three times and a finalist in 2016.
Now it’s Barriere’s turn.
“Honestly, the most fun thing for me is to watch him play,” Gubrud said. “There are some things that he can do physically that nobody else in the nation can do. And I literally mean nobody else in this nation.”
La Habra High coach Frank Mazzotta isn’t surprised by Barriere’s swift success.
“Pretty much exactly what we envisioned for Eric,” Mazzotta said. “We thought Eastern was good for him. They’ve played great football for a long time. Kids down here are learning that FCS is a great level of football.”
Watching Barriere on television and streaming services, Mazzotta said he still sees the same quiet leader he had in high school.
“There are loud leaders in football, and I think leadership can be contrived and totally faked,” Mazzotta said. “I would rather have a guy exactly like Eric. He doesn’t get too excited or too quiet. He is super sharp.”
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